These days many of us buy just about everything online and, as everyone knows, it is not always simple. You need to weigh up the pros and cons of one thing over another, shop around for price, do your research… Buying diet pills is no different. Most people will trawl through lots of supplements on sale before making what they hope is the right choice for them. Whoever said that shopping online was easy?
This is why customer reviews are so important. After all, a review for a diet pill written by an someone who has already tried it should give the buyer an idea of what to expect. The truth however is not so clear cut. According to psychologist Dr Mícheál de Barra from the University of Aberdeen, speaking in an interview with the Daily Mail, you need to take most peoples’ weight loss claims with a very large pinch of salt when it comes to diet pills. And he has carried out the research to prove it.
So called amazing results!
He looked at more than 1600 reviews for diet pills posted on Amazon and came up with a very interesting finding. He found that when compared with the scientific evidence and clinical trial results of the products he looked at, the weight loss effects reported by ordinary people actually using them were far better than predicted. It seemed that in many cases these “amazing “results experienced by buyers exceeded all clinical testing predictions. Surely that is not possible?
Dr Barra looked at Orlistat – a diet pill often prescribed by doctors but also available as an OTC supplement called Alli. Across the board, reviewers using Orlistat claimed to have lost 14kg (2 stones 2 pounds) in weight, while those in clinical trials lost only 7kg (1 stone 1.4 pounds) over the same period.
He noticed the same phenomenon with Benecol – an ingredient that cuts cholesterol. To his surprise he found that the reported results were wildly in excess of predictions. Reviewers claimed to have lost 3 x times more cholesterol than reported in the clinical trials.
What does this mean?
Dr Barra’s findings have been published in the professional journal Social Science and Medicine. It is the first study to compare clinical trial data with user-generated online reviews.
These findings do not mean that the products work better than advertised. The scientists have not got it wrong about their products. Instead human nature is to blame.
Dr Barra is a psychologist and he believes that people post positive reviews because they have a need to share good experiences rather than negative ones. This means that many people will tend to over-exaggerate their results. The positive reviews are not really meant to mislead people. They are probably written with the best of intentions.
One problem is that not everyone will write product reviews, because only a very small minority of customers bother leaving feedback. According to Dr Barra,
Only some people who try a treatment will then go on to tell other people about their experience, however, this subset of people are usually only those who have good outcomes.
In other words, many of the people who only have moderate success, or no success at all, tend to keep quiet about it, probably because their experience is just not interesting.
So does this mean that positive reviews are worthless?
According to Dr Barra, the treatments on sale are not entirely ineffective, but they are not going to be as good as many customers describe. The reputation of some of these diet pills is enhanced by the reviews which promise better results than the clinical trial data show.
A diet pill may work, but it is not going to work even better than described. It is important to remember that many people will have tried the diet pill without writing a review and their results are probably quite different.
Dr Barra also states that over-positive but “genuine” customer feedback is a worrying trend because it can lead to people continuing to use diet pills in place of thinking of lifestyle. After all, you can lose weight and reduce cholesterol by simply going on a diet and exercising more. A positive review may give you hope that this time the diet pill will give you a fast way of achieving results.
As he points out,
We should be cautious about using reviews like these when deciding about health choices. These narratives have a powerful influence on our own future health behaviour because they provide simple and clear anecdotes, but this study shows that they can be very misleading.
Don’t believe everything you read. Think before you write!
Here at the Watchdog we are always on the look out for fake reviews – where unscrupulous diet pill retailers post positive so-called customer reviews in order to get people to buy. This is a problem that is usually easy to spot because in most cases there is a pattern of behaviour that can be identified.
However, positive customer reviews left by customers can be a serious problem. An over-positive customer review is not usually posted in malice but it can have a real effect upon other customers. It will encourage other people to buy something, based on so-called real life experience that may have never happened. We expect a certain amount of exaggeration in advertising but we tend to believe our fellow consumers.
If you write product reviews, keep it real! You do need to consider that your words have power. Whatever you say will influence fellow buyers and if you just keep to the truth you will actually be helping people rather than setting up complete strangers for a massive disappointment.
Reviews can be useful
Despite the concerns, customer reviews can be useful to read. The important thing is not to take any of it too literally. If a reviewer claims to have lost a surprising amount of weight in a short period of time, you should take their claims with a pinch of salt. Yes, they may have lost some weight and they like the supplement, but in most cases that is as good as it gets when it comes to accurate feedback.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.